Researchers at Johns Hopkins have identified a gene that, when repressed in tumor cells, puts a halt to cell growth and a range of processes needed for tumors to enlarge and spread to distant sites. The researchers hope that this so-called "master regulator" gene may be the key to developing a new treatment for tumors resistant to current drugs.
"This master regulator is normally turned off in adult cells, but it is very active during embryonic development and in all highly aggressive tumors studied to date," says Linda Resar, M.D., an associate professor of medicine, oncology and pediatrics, and affiliate in the Institute for Cell Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "Our work shows for the first time that switching this gene off in aggressive cancer cells dramatically changes their appearance and behavior." A description of the experiments appears in the May 2 issue of the journal PLOS ONE.
Resar has been investigating genes in the master regulator's family, known as high mobility group or HMG genes, for two decades. In addition to their role in cancer, these genes are essential for giving stem cells their special powers, and that's no coincidence, she says. "Many investigators consider cancer cells to be the evil twin of stem cells, because like stem cells, cancer cells must acquire special properties to enable the tumor to grow and metastasize or spread to different sites," she explains.
In a previous study , she and her team devised techniques to block the HMGA1 gene in stem cells in order to study its role in those cells. In their prior work, they discovered that HMGA1 is essential for reprogramming adult cells, like blood or skin cells, into stem cells that share most, if not all, properties of embryonic stem cells.
In the newly reported study, the Resar team applied the same techniques to several strains of human breast cancer cells in the laboratory, including the so-called triple n
|Contact: Shawna Williams|
Johns Hopkins Medicine